You may have heard this before: SEO is clearly here for the long run, yada yada yada. But, surprisingly, many people and companies, from small businesses to corporations, have yet to fully embrace SEO. Some are simply unaware of its potential, while others are unsure what SEO writing is in the first place.
Even worse, SEO is rarely taught in Marketing classes in colleges and universities across the country. I know from personal experience. I was a Marketing and Management double major in college and I had only ONE class focusing on Digital Marketing and ONE section within that class focusing on SEO.
That isn’t enough to even scrape the surface when it comes to SEO.
As an SEO beginner, it can be intimidating to try to figure out where to start. There are a plethora of SEO tools available online, from free Google Chrome extensions to paid enterprise platforms and everything in between.
While each tool can provide value on its own and many have similar capabilities, using them together is the best way to create a well-rounded piece of content.
Although I’m now a Managed Services Strategist on Conductor’s Professional Services team, I was new to the world of SEO, content, and digital marketing pretty recently. So, as an exercise, while writing this article and optimizing it for search engines, I went back and used the same easy and efficient tools I relied on while first learning SEO myself. In this article, I’ll walk you through these tools and the process of writing articles and content with SEO in mind.
Before we start, I have a confession to make: I am a keyword junkie. Keyword research is my roots, my bread and butter so to speak, and I truly believe the first step in writing an article or developing a landing page with SEO in mind should always be keyword research.
Without a deep understanding of the questions and problems your audience is searching for answers to – a deep understanding that you can only get from keyword research – we won’t know what topics and search terms to target with our content, its organic visibility will be diminished, and it will likely not be found.
So how do we find the right keywords? The most important criteria are relevance to product/offering and user intent. MSV (monthly search volume) and stiffness of competition are useful as directional metrics to help prioritize which keywords to target, but we should make sure first and foremost that the keywords we select and the intent behind those keywords naturally align with the topic of our content.
(By “user intent behind the keywords,” I mean the stage of the customer or educational journey that a keyword falls into. For example, a person searching the keyword “sports cars” is probably just looking to learn more about sports cars in general, while a person searching the keyword “Ford Mustang vs. Dodge Challenger” is probably nearing a purchase decision.)
Explorer: One of the perks of working at Conductor is that I have access to our powerful keyword research tool Explorer. With Explorer, I can easily research new content ideas and understand how customers are searching around these topics. I can also look at everything from head term to long tail keywords, and I can see what keywords our content and our organic competitors’ content is ranking for.
In the Explorer screenshots below, we can see keyword research around the phrase “SEO Tools” sorted by MSV and filtered for Early Stage customer intent and Low Competition. I filter for Early Stage because I want to connect with searchers early in their educational journeys. The MSV and competition filters allow me to target high volume searches with low competition, giving me a better potential of quickly ranking high on the Google SERP (search engine results page).
Every page/article/blog post should target at least 3 keywords (one primary keyword target and several secondary and tertiary keyword targets). We need to make sure these targeted keywords are included in the appropriate parts of the page – like the URL, title tag, header tags, and meta description – so searchers and Google itself know what the page is about.
We can use LSI keywords – keywords semantically related to your target keywords – to make it even easier for Google to understand what our page is about. Inserting LSI keywords into our header tags and other key parts of the structure of the page help build out a content theme that Google can understand.
LSI Graph: This is the best free LSI keyword generator I’ve found. Be aware that you only get to search three keywords a day for free.
Once we’ve selected and implemented our keywords in our content, we need to ensure bigger picture that we are targeting different, unique keywords for every piece of content on our site. That way, we maximize the impact of each individual piece of content.
Answer the Public: This is a very cool way to visualize keyword research according to customer intent and more. These visualizations can also help you see potential content topic clusters that you’ve yet to address on your website.
One of the biggest things we say in SEO is: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This definitely applies to competitive research. If your competitor is ranking #1, why not figure out what they’re doing and try to mimic their strategy?
By understanding what our competitors are doing well, we can learn how to structure our content and what keywords to target. We can also discover opportunities to differentiate our page from theirs.
Additionally, we can look for content gaps in the space. If neither we nor our competitors have content around a specific topic, it’s an opportunity for us to create content to capture searchers looking for help with the topic.
Where do we start with competitive research? By using SEO tools to answer these three questions:
SEO Meta in 1 Click: This free Google Chrome extension shows you the meta data keyword targets of any piece of content – great for identifying your competitors’ keyword strategies and building your own.
SEOQuake: You can use this free Google Chrome extension to analyze SERPs and capture your competition’s keyword rankings so that you understand their market share.
Word Count: This free Google Chrome extension makes it easy to see how many words are written on your competitors’ pages, helping you understand how in-depth your content should be.
LinkResearchTools: This paid Chrome Extension shows you the authority that a page is receiving from links – great for identifying your competitors’ link strategies and building your own.
Conductor Explorer/Rank Comparisons/Market Share: These powerful tools from Conductor show you what keywords and topics our competitors are targeting and even make recommendations around what topics to focus on in your own content.
Remember that competitive research isn’t the be-all and end-all of ranking on Google. Google doesn’t reward websites for good SEO in and of itself – it rewards websites for high quality, unique, and relevant content that provides value to the searcher. As long as we create that kind of content, we will be competitive in the space and authoritative to Google.
The Google SERP is no longer just 10 blue links. It’s evolved from a search engine into an experiential engine where users can learn about their queries through new result types like answer boxes without even leaving the SERP.
We need to know what content and features are actually showing up on SERPs in order to understand if certain keywords are really relevant enough to target and how we should structure our content to fit the searcher’s intent.
Analyzing the type of content that appears on the SERP for a keyword helps you understand what stage of the buyer’s journey the keyword fits into. For example, if mostly educational content appears on a SERP, then the searcher looking for information around the keyword is probably in the early educational stage; but if product pages appear on the SERP, then the searcher is probably in a middle stage where they’re comparing products or a later transactional stage.
We also have to be realistic about whether our content and our website has a chance of ranking for the keyword in light of the other publishers on the page. If we’re a manufacturer of basketballs and we see that the SERP for the keyword “basketball” is dominated by news publishers and statistics websites, we know that our product pages have little chance of breaking onto page 1.
Then, we want to look at what kind of universal results (like answer boxes, knowledge graphs, videos, Twitter, news, images, local packs, etc.) are appearing on the SERP. By knowing what of universal results are appearing in the SERPs, we are able to understand how we should structure and optimize our content to target certain universal result types, which can help up rank higher on the page.
Google Incognito: You can use Google Incognito to see the SERP first-hand in real time for a given query without influence from your own search history and data.
Conductor Explorer/Result Types/Keyword Performance: These powerful tools from Conductor quickly and easily break down everything that’s on the SERP, including insights on the universal results for specific keywords.